Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Observing the release of a new translation

In the last month a new translation of the Bible was released in Mongolia. Actually it is a revision of the previous dominant translation, the Ариун Библи. Actually, there has always been a little bit of controversy over translations in Mongolia since the Democratic revolution, particularly over the adoption and adaptation of buddhist terminology. I will not be discussing that in this post.

Instead, I give you a few scattered observations as an outsider. For most believers I deal with there has been a single translation, or at least a single very dominant translation, for all the short (< 25 years) history of the local churches. Now, after quite some wait, a new and revised translation has been released.

On the one hand there has been a very widespread and consistent push for adoption, at least in the circles I am familiar with. People have been encouraged to buy the new version, and to set aside the old version. Where possible, the new version has been employed immediately in preaching and teaching.

On the other, some have expressed dislike or apprehension about the new version. In attempting to be more 'Mongolian', it has sometimes chosen to utilise older words, archaicisms that, while better and more accurately, and more Mongolian-ly, expressing certain concepts, are less common or even generally unknown in contemporary usage, even among some highly educated Mongolians. When readers of the new translation find it more difficult, or even impossible, to understand, this is some kind of problem. However, to be fair, there were many passages in the older version that were equally obscure to readers.

Personally I am not really in a position to judge the quality of the new translation. I hadn't read enough of the older version, and haven't conducted any significant comparison with the newer version either. Nor is my Mongolian up to careful literary or linguistic criticism! This is one reason I have been asking several people for their opinions.

However it has been very interesting just to watch and observe this process unfold. Unlike the contemporary English Bible 'market', where there are an absurd number of available translations, watching the Mongolian church deal with the release of a single revision to a dominant translation, and the issues of transition, of preference, of acceptance and critique, is truly a different experience.

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